Monday, April 14, 2008

Inside Outsider

As I mentioned in my last post, I am having a lot of trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy these days. It isn't so much that I don't know the difference between the two. It is just that lately the lines between the two have gotten increasingly blurry, the colors melting into one another, with the lines that had been around them obscured. (See also: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). This weekend in South Florida took an already troubling situation and threw it right down the rabbit hole, and me along with it.

Friday officially kicked off my season of pride events. Each year, I spend my sunny weekends on the road, emceeing pride events, to help promote my radio show. Since these trips tend to include all of my least favorite activities (leaving the house, dealing with airport security, meeting strangers, public speaking, etc.) it is honestly hard for me to have a genuinely good time. As it is true in life in general, happiness is not a sustained state of being, it is merely flashing moments, highlighting the otherwise dull and painful patches. So I can't say I didn't have any fun, the strobe flickered many times, but in the end, I am glad to be back home. At least in my house, I can manage the dull patches a little more effectively.

The organizers of Pride South Florida (in particular Mike Cruz) are lovely people, who fly me down, put me up at a nice place, and send cars to cart me around. It is one of the few events we do each year where I feel like a genuine celebrity. Most of the time, it is me and Romaine piling into a rental car and navigating our way to whatever cheap dump I booked us into, with a stop at the Waffle House along the way. This year, Mike sent a stand-up limo van for me, that was bigger inside than my own bedroom, and nicer too. The limo took me to my hotel for the weekend, a gay resort called The Grand. And Grand it was.

I am not much for B&Bs because I like my anonymity. Give me a big impersonal chain hotel with at least 300 rooms and I am all set. I don't even like maid service if I am staying for only one or two days. I can use a towel twice and I don't need my bed made every day. It feels like such a waste. A gay guesthouse is a decent middle point. I can still have a little anonymity (no surprise wake-up visits by the owner with a cup of coffee in hand) while also not feeling like I am sleeping in a lifeless mattress ad. The Grand lived up to its name and I did enjoy my quiet room way in the back.

Of course, my room was just past the "nature walk" (aka late night cruising zone) and the clothing optional jacuzzi. Each time I walked past the hot tub area, day and night, I was cat called and wolf whistled, which I guess is flattering, but on Friday night, rushing through with a warm plate of Greek food on my way in to watch the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, I was in no mood for it. Even though I left the "Do Not Disturb" sign on my room all day Saturday, the sneaky maid managed to come in and organize everything anyway, including hiding my iPod in a decorative candy dish which while pretty when I found it, did cause my heart to panic for a moment when I thought it might have been stolen.

The pride event itself was quiet on Saturday. A decent but not spectacular turnout, with a shy spot of rain in the early afternoon which made the heat moist and the ground too wet to sit on, though otherwise did nothing to dampen the event. I left early to attend the GLAAD Awards, which happened to be going on at the Hard Rock the same evening. Earlier last month when Neil Guiliano, the President of GLAAD was on the radio show, I mentioned that I was going to be down there at the same time, and to my surprise a few days later, I got an email from a GLAAD staffer saying that Neil requested that I be his guest at the South Florida event.

In my nascent celebrity, this is something of a big deal. It was an opportunity to attend an A-gay event, walk the red carpet to get my picture taken and hang out in the VIP area with the other celebrities, board members and big donors. I felt like Cinderella but in a grey Barneys suit that I picked up for a song last year at the Warehouse Sale. So off I went to the red carpet and for a moment, it was magical. The photographers all wanted my photo and I posed and posed and posed in my marked down suit with the four year old tie, nine year old shoes, borrowed socks, and a dress shirt from the early 90s that if I took off my jacket gave me the distinct air of a gay pirate. All of the film crews, save the folks from Bravo, were Spanish speaking and had zero interest in me. I got asked one question by Bravo, which I answered very badly, and was sent on my merry way. Flickering moments of happiness, long stretches of sad reality.

Once inside the door, I realized that I was there completely alone. My original invite had mentioned a personal talent escort which I assumed would be with me all night so I would at least have a GLAAD volunteer to talk to all night. But at the event I discovered that there were two kinds of celebrities: white folder and black folder. I had a white folder which meant, I was on my own, while the black folder celebrities who were winning or presenting, had a cute young person dressed all in black with a headset who waited on them hand and food. I turned slowly around in a circle not knowing what to do next and then mercifully ran into my best frenemy Dan Renzi. He saved my life.

Dan and I have a long, complicated, non-sexual history which mercifully he remembers little of. However, over the last year or so we have been reasonably chummy and in 2007 he even appeared, quite deliciously, in my video podcast The So Real Life. I couldn't ask for a better person to shove me over a pile of garbage than Dan. It was kismet, as was our meeting at the GLAAD Awards. We palled around, we made jokes, we compared white folders, and when we left the VIP reception to go down for the dinner, even though we were at separate tables, we sat in chairs next to each other so we could dish all night long.

Unfortunately, the only dish I was able to do was the one my food was on because instead of being placed at some out of the way non-table like I thought, I was at THE table. I was seated between Neil Guiliano and his hilarious brother John. Apparently it was a very personal invitation to the awards I had accepted. Also at the table, the night's big honoree Wilson Cruz and his parents, and Denise Williams, the mother of Simmie Williams, a young gay man murdered in Florida earlier this year. Oh yes and me! What the hell was I doing there? I started sweating I was so nervous but knew I couldn't take off my jacket for fear of a parrot settling on my shoulder.

Being South Florida, the show and presenters were very Latin focused and much of the proceedings were in Spanish. I missed a lot flipping through my phrasebook but the gay storyline clips from the telenovelas were the highlight of the evening for me until I saw 500 gay men sing along to Deborah Cox's sensational closing performance. In moments like that I thought, "I wish Jonathan was here. He would love this." but thoughts like that only served to pull me out of the moment and remind me how alone I tend to feel in a room filled with hundreds of people. But then the alternate reality I was living in would lure me back with another amazing flash. For instance, the big drama of the evening happened at our table, when Wilson Cruz (allergic to shellfish) bit into the chicken only to discover it was stuffed with shrimp. He was fine but I leaned into John and cracked, "Maybe next time your brother should consider not poisoning the guest of honor right before he goes on stage."

The whole thing was so surreal to me. On the one hand, I was treated like a celebrity, but inside I just felt like me, in an ugly shirt and painful shoes. It felt so fraudulent. Wilson is from TV and then there he was sitting at the table with me. On my way into dinner I ran into my friend Brandon's ex-boyfriend Cliff who I know from Arizona and who was recently embroiled in a gay public scandal of sorts, adding another dimension to the otherworldliness of it all. It all happened so fast, I never really had a moment to take it all in. Back at the dinner, I looked up and there was Neil, who just moments earlier had been making small talk with me at the table, now up on stage, projected onto the big screen TVs all over the auditorium, talking about Denise, who was sitting next to me, while photographers and cameramen rushed around me to capture the moment. As we stood for Denise's ovation, I instinctively felt the cameras at my back and leaded over ever so slightly to my left so they could get a better shot of her. I was participant and observer, and neither of them felt real to me.

After the awards Matt from Fab Scout picked me up and took me out of the surreal frying pan and into the fire: Boardwalk. The notorious South Florida stripper bar has turned into ground zero for me when I am in town, thanks to my friendship with Howard of Fab Scout, and it is where I spent Friday night as well. Howard wasn't there, but Jason Crew from Big Rig and Barrett Long were there, along with two new porn pups, annoyingly in love with each other and themselves, and Cort Donovan who charmed me in a way porn stars aren't normally charming to me. Jason remembered me from Big Rig and other run-ins and I reminded Barrett of our last meeting, at the HustlaBall in New York were I pawned Rod Barry off on him after Rod got too violently drunk for me to handle. Our Friday night adventure had ended with Jason telling me that I was "so squeezable" and then drunkenly asking me on the ride home if he and Barrett could gang bang me later in their hotel room. As tempting as 24 inches of cock may be for some people, I politely passed, ran past the nude men in the jacuzzi with their siren song and locked myself alone in my room.

Back at Boardwalk on Saturday making a second run at it and this time in a suit, I stood out like a sore, but wealthy thumb. The solicitous strippers were even more solicitous than usual. While waiting for the porn boys to do their show, so I could poke gentle fun at them later, into the bar walked the most perfect physical manifestation of my "type" that I have ever seen. As if things couldn't get any worse/better. He was blond, with Cory's hunk o' granite forehead, a cute button nose and bee stung Angelina Jolie lips that he kept in a pugnacious snarl at all times. If he had been four inches taller (say 6'2"), I would have kidnapped him and kept him in a dungeon somewhere. His name is "Brock" (may not actually be his real name) and he is apparently a "notorious bottom" and an escort. I was also told he was a complete mess, and when I met him, he was already if not blind drunk, then at least visually impaired intoxicated. He admired my light wool suit, then leaned in to make out with me, and when I tried to have small talk with him, asked me, "Are you going to take me home now?" Ugh! I am only human here.

His friend, who earlier had been nice to me, and bragged about his long friendship with Barrett Long, suddenly grabbed Brock and pulled him close. I heard him hiss in Brock's ear, "You aren't leaving this bar. He only wants to take advantage of you!" I was so offended. I didn't even have a car to take him home in, even if I really really really wanted to. And while I did want to take advantage of him, I certainly didn't mean it in a bad way! People can be so judgmental. He is an escort after all. So I am a bad person for wanting a free throw? I thought I was a celebrity. Didn't my VIP tickets include an open bar, a gift bag and a blow job? I guess he wasn't what GLAAD meant when they mentioned a talent escort for the evening.

Me in a suit, making out with a hot stranger. It just isn't me. Walking red carpets and mingling with people I heretofore have only known in the abstract. Just plain strange. I was still completely beside myself on Sunday when a pair of Broadway actors who listen to the show and happened to be in South Florida at the same time, dropped by pride to meet me. I was still queasy and tired from the night before, and my emcee gig had definitely taken a desperate shticky turn for the worst as they arrived. I couldn't have been at a lower ebb for what I had been looking forward to as the highlight of my weekend.

Kevin plays Scrabulous with me endlessly on Facebook and emails with me regularly, but we had never met before, so our encounter had the happy, excited feel of meeting a junior high school pen pal. But that comparison may be apt only because my tongue was nuclear green from the lollipop I consumed earlier to mask the Munchos aftertaste in my mouth. His boyfriend Chris I knew a little more about because I had read about him and saw him on TV a few times, but virtually all of my interaction up to this point had been with Kevin who I knew less about but somehow knew better, so meeting Chris was weirder for me.

This is difficult to explain in words. I meet people all the time from TV shows or movies or what have you because of my job, but rarely do I meet someone from that world who also listens to the show. Usually, we interview someone who doesn't know anything about us, but we know all about them, in much the same way that listeners meet us at events and know all about our lives but we don't know anything about theirs. So here we were two people who knew each other's resumes basically, and a little more perhaps, but meeting for the first time. It was like a real life version of the old Spy Magazine section Logrolling In Our Time. It was all too much for me.

I know you. You know me. We don't know each other. Maybe it was the heat and humidity after a long cold winter. Maybe it was the 48 surreal hours that had gone before. Real names hidden under porn names. White folder celebrity versus black folder celebrity. Untoward sexual advances from hot strangers. By the time Kevin and Chris arrived, I was mentally throwing in the towel. All I wanted to do was flee to the airport. Being in a strange city, meeting new people, I felt like an astronaut in space who becomes untethered from the ship, and then ever so slowly but quite desperately floats away.

I wanted my boring life back. I just wanted the security that comes with sleeping in my own bed in my house built to withstand a nuclear war with the furniture too heavy to move. When I landed at La Guardia and walked into the parking structure, I was never so happy to see my little beat up old red convertible. And parked right next to it, another little red convertible with a tiny SIRIUS antenna stuck on the trunk, just like mine. It made me happy in that instant because for the first time in three days, I felt like I belonged. Not as someone who talks on the radio, but as just another person in this city that listens. And then I drove home and climbed into bed. And for perhaps a little longer than usual, I was happy.

1 comment:

Bart said...

Perfect storm for the perfect post and brutally honest. Been there. Done that. Have the commerative key chain fob and the same four-year old suit from a galaxy long, long ago and far, far away. Superb, honest and (above all) resonant. I often wonder why you make all the appearances you do when you don't "enjoy" them. As usual, you explain that with true double-edged sword clarity. Can you hear the appluse from Pennsylvania yet? Thanks for sharing.